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Guy Souhard, Hedge and Garden

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About the Artist/Site

Guy Souchard was born in the department of Mayenne, in France’s Loire valley, and spent his working life as a carpenter in the city of Laval, working a standard thirty-five hour week. Around 1973, he moved to Saint-Berthevin and, as a new homeowner enthusiastic about doing some home improvements in his free time, planted a cedar hedge around his corner property. After his retirement around 1992, he began to ornament his home and garden with found and fabricated objects and also to sculpt the hedge, which by that time had grown thick and high. At first he used hand clippers and then later an electric trimmer, and the dense bushes became the surface out of which he carved a variety of images. He was so inspired by this new passion to create that he no longer counted the hours per week that he worked. Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, as well as the dog Laika who had also traveled in space were featured, as was the French rock star Johnny Hallyday. There were other more generic images such as fish, animals, and birds, as well as hearts, the sun and moon, a boat, a deck of cards, and even kangaroos. Around 2016, he began to outline some of the carvings in bright rainbow colors, and he enjoyed chatting with passersby as he carved and painted. The hedge is sculpted on both the exterior and interior; not only is it artistic, Souhard says proudly, but the carvings help to slow its growth.

On the interior of the garden he fabricated and installed numerous aluminum statues, some so large that their heads are viewable from the other side of the hedge. There is a giraffe, an ostrich – with 1200 feathers, requiring over 240 hours of work – a Citroen 2 CV, a deer, and a monkey. There are also works in wood, including portraits of Brigitte Bardot, Charlie Chaplin, and Laurel and Hardy, some of which are painted flat panels and others which are carved in somewhat more depth. Found objects – such as Hallyday’s guitar – help to identify the figures and define their characteristics.

On the interior of the house, Souhard’s collections are everywhere, and are comprised of everything: telephones, dolls, pendulum clocks, statues, cameras, toys, music boxes, and much, much more. Branches of a hazelnut tree, rescued from his garden after it started dying, have been installed in the middle of the home, serving as an organic display unit for hanging a variety of trinkets. While he noted that not all of the objects, in and of themselves, were of special interest, taken as a whole they have tremendous value. He never worried about amassing too many things, he said; he just figured that he would build another shelf for what he needed.

Despite the neighbors’ delight in his work and the fact that people from all over the world would pass by to see and photograph the hedge while visiting the town, in 2018 a single complaint from a neighbor was all it took for the municipal offices to demand that Souhard reduce the height and depth of the hedge; they were concerned about its size, which exceeded regulations, and felt that the colored branches were too obtrusive. Although it broke his heart to do so, Souhard decided to accede to their demands instead of fighting the decree, although cutting the hedge back so severely ensured the death of the cedars. The majority of his neighbors mourned the passing of this local landmark, and bemoaned the lack of tolerance that this complaint revealed; the name of the single complainant has not been revealed.

As of this writing, the ornamented garden remains intact, although the hedge is no longer extant.

~Jo Farb Hernández

 

Map and site information

46 Avenue du Maréchal Leclerc
Saint-Berthevin, Pays de la Loire, France
Latitude/Longitude: 48.071211 / -0.829388

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